City targets loitering problem

Published 12:03 am Saturday, April 20, 2013

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez has a message for loiterers: Take the party inside.

Mayor Butch Brown said the city is cracking down on loitering outside of businesses. Loiterers drinking and gathering outside on the street, he said, leads to fighting and people getting hurt.

“We have had several shootings in conjunction with these people being outside of lounges and bars,” Brown said. “This is not Dodge City, Kansas, this is Natchez, Mississippi. It’s supposed to be a lot more refined and dignified than standing out in the middle of the street with a beer bottle and a pistol.”

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Brown specifically named St. Catherine and Martin Luther King Jr. streets as problem areas for loitering.

Zipy gas station on Martin Luther King Jr. Street has been a popular place for loiterers, and manager Tracie Washington said she has struggled to keep loiterers off the property.

“They’re here every day all day long, and I call the police and they leave, and when the police leave, (the loiterers) come back,” she said.

Washington said she has been cooperative with police in trying to get loiterers off the property because they cause problems for the customers.

“They fight, break in people’s cars, take people’s stuff, rob people,” she said.

Police Chief Danny White said any time people gather in large groups, problems are bound to happen.

“When people group up, normally you’re going to have disturbances,” White said.

Ward 2 Alderman Ricky Gray and Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields said they have problems with people loitering in their wards outside of businesses and private residences.

White said that unless people gathered outside on private property are causing a disturbance, the police cannot intervene.

Fields said residents have complained to him about loitering near their houses.

“(Loiterers) are disturbing the neighbors with loud music and loud talking,” he said. “Basically they’re having the party outside instead of having it on the inside.”

Brown said he tackled loitering problems during this first tenure as mayor.

“When I was mayor from 1992 to 2000, we closed down 17 juke joints, and we’ll close them again if we don’t want to comply,” he said. “We’re going to have a zero-tolerance (policy).”

Police Chief Danny White said the police department has beefed up patrol and run off loiterers for certain places downtown, particularly on Martin Luther King Jr. Street. He said the department plans to continue being on the lookout for loiterers.

“We will be enforcing it,” he said.

Gray said ridding the town of loiterers would take the cooperation of residents.

“We all want a safe city, but in order to get to that point, we’re going to have to have the cooperation of the citizens,” he said. “Everybody is not going to like it, but we just want to make Natchez safe for everybody.”